Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Cook: I considered that matter carefully last summer, when we were developing the White Paper, and it is not the case that most bicameral Parliaments are wholly elected. Many of them, probably the majority, have a significant elected element, but many draw their democratic mandate not from direct elections, but from indirect elections. Indeed, in our closest comparators in Europe, it is commonplace in France, Germany, Spain and

10 Jan 2002 : Column 710

the Netherlands for the composition of the second Chamber to come predominantly from indirect elections from regional government.

I am conscious that some of my colleagues view that as a way to increase the democratic element in the House of Lords, but when the Wakeham commission investigated that option, it found no support for it among the regional or devolved bodies. One of the issues that can be resolved in the consultation exercise is whether that remains the case and whether the regional and devolved bodies would be interested in a route of indirect election as a supplement to direct elections and the democratic mandate of some of the second Chamber's Members.

There are several subsidiary questions. I shall not detain the House with them for long, but it is important to put them before the House for debate. One of the other issues raised in the White Paper is whether the 15-year term of membership proposed by the Wakeham commission is too long for the elected or appointed members. Is it necessary to change the remuneration of Members of the second Chamber from the present system of daily allowances, especially if there is a wish to elect more of its Members?

Finally, the White Paper invites views on the circumstances in which Members should be expelled from the second Chamber. Members of the House of Commons can be expelled on the grounds of imprisonment under a sentence of more than one year. No similar provision exists for the present House of Lords. If we seek a reformed second Chamber that will command respect, we must protect it against Members who bring it into disrepute.

The Government have put House of Lords reform out to consultation because we want to build on the basis of the broadest possible consensus for reform. This is the national Parliament of the British people. That is why we seek the widest consultation on the design of its second Chamber. A number of hon. Members have differences with some of the proposals in the White Paper, and we want to explore those differences in this debate, but most Members want reform to proceed, and I ask the House to recognise the far-reaching extent of reform on which the White Paper is based.

The reforms will secure four objectives of principle: they will remove the last of the hereditary peers from Parliament; they will introduce the first ever elected peers into the House of Lords; they will put the appointment of independent Members outside political patronage; and they will secure a political balance in the House of Lords that reflects the views of the British public in the most recent general election. I invite support for those four objectives of principle from all hon. Members who want a modern second Chamber—one that will not compete for power with the House of Commons, but will complement the House of Commons as a Chamber of revision and be in touch with the Britain of today, not the Britain of yesterday.

2.29 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Madam Deputy Speaker,

10 Jan 2002 : Column 711

These are the words of the Prime Minister in Cardiff in 1994.

These are the words of the Prime Minister at the 1993 Labour party conference.

These are the words of the Lord Chancellor in 1997.

Having set the background to the debate, let me do that very modern, but for me rather uncharacteristic thing, and try to identify common ground between the Opposition and the Government.

Mrs. Anne Campbell: Does the shadow Leader of the House recall that, in 1999, he stated that he had no problem defending the long-standing hereditary element in the House of Lords? Does he still agree with that view?

Mr. Forth: I think that I said that in the context of our response to what the Government were then doing. My view then and my view now is that the hereditary element provided a splendidly robust and independent counterweight to the Government and to the House of Commons. I still hold to that view.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forth: Let me answer the first intervention. I ask the hon. Lady to be patient.

The issue now is how we can best replace the robustly independent element that served this country well for centuries with something that is at least effective. I am not here today to say that we should return to a hereditary element; I am here to look forward. However, I have no hesitation in confirming that those were the words that I said then, and I have explained why I said them.

Glenda Jackson: Does the right hon. Gentleman's definition of independent in the context of the House of Lords apply to a body that during my lifetime—and, I would argue, for the whole of the last century and even before—was firmly tucked in the pocket of the Conservative party?

Mr. Forth: I wish that had sometimes been the case. Those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who had the privilege, as I did, to serve in government for a number of years will well recall that one of the primary questions asked during the preparation and passage of legislation was, "Will this get through the Lords? Will the Lords accept it?" As those Labour Members who have had the privilege of being here for more than one or two parliamentary terms will recall, the Conservative Government were, indeed, held to account very frequently by the House of Lords even when it was predominantly a

10 Jan 2002 : Column 712

hereditary body. My recollection in and out of government—as a Minister and Government Back Bencher—is somewhat at odds with the hon. Lady's.

Mr. Savidge: The right hon. Gentleman says that the House of Lords could be awkward to Conservative Governments, but surely he is an ideal exemplar of how awkward Conservatives are still Conservatives.

Mr. Forth: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that high praise. I hope that I can continue to meet his description.

I was saying that I wanted to try to seek common ground between the Opposition and the Government, and I believe that there is some. We agree that there should be a second fully effective parliamentary Chamber. Indeed, we agree with the sentiments of the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor that I quoted a moment ago when they said that the second Chamber should at least be substantially elected to give it democratic integrity and credibility. We agree with the Lord Chancellor when he said in 1997 that the second Chamber must be "above patronage". It should be visibly and palpably above criticism, not a quango.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): When my right hon. Friend says that we agree that the majority of the second Chamber should be elected, for whom is he speaking?

Mr. Forth: I did not say that. I said that the second Chamber must at least be substantially elected. Those were the words I used; those are the words I read. That is why I am, uncharacteristically, going to read most of this speech. It will save me from exactly the sort of pungent point that my hon. Friend has just made.

Mr. Chaytor: Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the range of percentages between which his definition of "substantially" falls?

Mr. Forth: No. It will not surprise you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to learn that I had anticipated that I might be asked that question, so I have armed myself with the words that were used by my noble Friend Lord Strathclyde in another place in yesterday's debate. He said that Her Majesty's Opposition in both Houses had

That is what we shall do.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman. As the originator of an early-day motion that has been signed by many Members and that refers to the word "substantially", I have discussed with colleagues what they mean by that. The overwhelming view of all those to whom I have spoken—most of the signatories—is that "substantially" must mean at least half the Members of the second Chamber.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I am in substantial agreement with her. However, she and the House will learn by the end of the month what we mean by "substantially". I will not be tempted to tell her today.

Peter Bradley: Will the right hon. Gentleman reveal to us the temperature of those on the Conservative

10 Jan 2002 : Column 713

Benches? I have signed the early-day motion that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) mentioned, but I am not aware of any Conservative signing it to support the principle of substantial election.

Next Section

IndexHome Page